According to the American Cancer Society, nearly 1 out of 3 people in the United States will have cancer during their lifetimes. With a number that staggering, it’s difficult not to wonder whether you or a loved one will be affected by the disease in some way. However, before jumping to conclusions, it’s important to remember that not all subtle or common symptoms are a sign of something malignant. Many, in fact, are caused by less serious conditions. When cancer is the culprit, though, it is key to spot the signs and seek treatment as early as possible, when the disease has more treatment options and better outcomes.
Most of us are aware of common, high-risk lifestyle choices that increase your risk of certain cancers, like using tobacco, poor diet or physical inactivity. While avoiding these risk factors is important, it’s equally critical to pay attention to indicators from your body that may convey potential health issues. As nonthreatening as they may seem on the surface, you should know that symptoms, when prolonged, could be a signal of a serious health problem. Knowing your body, monitoring your health and taking action when known symptoms last longer than two weeks can make a big difference in spotting cancer in its early stages.
In my experience, 10 key symptoms of cancer people often overlook include:
• Unexplained weight loss
• Fever of unknown origin
• Night sweats
• New or unexplained pain
• Persistent heartburn
• Mouth or tongue sores that don’t heal
• Irregular bowel patterns
• Unexplained lumps
• Trouble swallowing
These symptoms are often misidentified because they are not specific to just cancer, and therefore can be attributable to other health issues. For example, someone who suffers from Irritable Bowel Syndrome and regularly experiences an irregular bowel pattern does not necessarily assume his or her symptoms could be a sign of colorectal cancer. In addition, a common symptom of ovarian cancer is bloating and early satiety but many women may attribute fluid buildup or bloating to normal weight gain. For these reasons, it’s important to know what symptoms can signal more than one health issue.
Key Takeaway: if you experience any of these symptoms for more than two weeks, you should make an appointment with your primary care physician to discuss what you’re experiencing. This way, they can help make sense of what your symptoms mean, perhaps properly diagnose your symptoms and continue to monitor for issues, or refer you to a specialist. When it comes to cancer prevention, you are your own best advocate.
Dr. Ioana Bonta is a medical oncologist at Cancer Treatment Centers of America in Newnan, Ga.